Louella Meets A Consultant

by A.C. Cherbonnier
       Louella staggered under the weight of her carry-on luggage as she made her way down the plane’s narrow aisle. God! If I’d known the plane would be this small, I would have upgraded!, she thought. She had to settle for the last seat in the back, right in front of the lavatory.
       She stuffed her baggage in the overhead compartment, pulled out a pillow and blanket, and prepared to ignore her seatmate. Suppose I don’t like her? she reasoned. I’d be bored to death!
       The plane began to taxi toward the runway. The flight attendants did their usual pantomime with air bags, but Louella was more interested in checking to be sure there was a barf bag handy. A child whimpered nearby as the plane began to take off. Oh great, she thought. This is going to be one of those trips from hell! She pulled a new romance novel from her purse, inserted discreetly into a leather cover. This 450-page mama should get me through, she thought, opening it.
       Then her seatmate struck. “Hi, I’m Carolyn Austin,” she said. “On my way to San Diego. You?”
       If only I’d learned Polish like Mom wanted! Then I could pretend I don’t know English! “Same,” said Louella with practiced curtness as she pointedly concentrated on her book.
       “Sorry to disturb you,” said Carolyn coolly. “Go on with your reading.” Louella noticed the woman was perusing the Wall Street Journal.
       Maybe she wouldn’t be so bad to talk to after all, thought Louella, suddenly aware that the woman’s fleshy thigh was touching her own skinny one. I may as well talk to her. She’s practically sitting in my lap as it is.
       “I’m actually headed for Mexico to get some medicine for my mother,” Louella blurted.
       “Really? How interesting.”
       Uh-oh. I’ve put my foot in it. She’s not interested in me any more. I ticked her off.
       The plane was now up so high that they could see the Baltimore region spread out below them like a colorful quilt. “Oh, look!” said Louella. “That yellow-grey color hanging over the city! It’s air pollution! Isn’t that awful?”
       The woman perked up. “Well, some don’t like pollution, but it keeps me in business. I’m an environmental consultant.”
       “For government or business?”
       “What do you think?” said Carolyn. “For business, of course.”
        “What kind of consultant are you? Science or what?”
       “No—I do crisis management public relations.”
       “You do? I did that once for a D.C. firm. I helped a Japanese company deal with negative publicity about the plutonium they were transporting by airplane.”
       “Were you on salary, or did you negotiate your own contract?”
       “Oh, that’s too bad. You know, I’ve got one client alone that’s paying me $20,000 a month just to have me on retainer in case there’s a problem.”
       “You’re kidding me! How do you get to be a consultant?”
       “You just say you are one, present yourself well, talk up your experience—and you ask for a huge amount of money, or they won’t think you’re worth anything.”



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This story was published on August 1, 2001.